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Momo Kujiraoka, with her two books, inspired by women in Seville. SUR
Starting from zero in Seville

Starting from zero in Seville

It wasn't all sunshine and salmorejo at the start of her journey but Momo Kujiraoka eventually found her way

Anthony Piovesan

Friday, 15 September 2023, 16:05

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There were plenty of times when Momo Kujiraoka almost purchased a one-way ticket back to Japan.

The 32-year-old was in the middle of shampooing her hair one day when the hot water ran out and she screamed in anger and wondered why she had left Tokyo for the middle of Andalucía. The next day the air-conditioning in her apartment broke, leaving her without any relief from the searing summer heat in Seville. Momo stepped out into the burning August sun and quickly took refuge inside a cafe.

"I remember thinking 'why am I living a life of cold showers and impossible heat after I have lived 26 years with a great career, able to speak English, and work for a big foreign company'," Momo told SUR in English.

"Now I am able to laugh but back then I was seriously distressed."

Momo moved to Seville in 2017 after she fell in love with her partner José, who she met one night at a disco in Tokyo.

The pair exchanged details and wrote to each other until she visited him six months later in March 2017.

By September that year, she quit her job as operations manager for a paper bag production company and left the hustle and bustle of the Japanese capital for the rolling hills of Andalucía.

In addition to the daily challenges of adapting to life in the south of Spain, not knowing any Spanish and initially mistaking Seville for a suburb in Madrid, Momo felt "something special" in her new home.

"Tokyo was such a big city and what was important was what kind of job you had, what kind of places you could eat in, how much money you earned; it was a life of vanity, but Andalucía slapped that right out of me," she said.

"The people here welcomed me, they were so happy, they enjoyed the simple things in life; it was beautiful and pure."

Momo started work as a photographer and writer, as well as overseeing operations for a company in her home country. Each weekend she picked a different area of the city to explore, and new gardens to photograph. She learned the traditions of Semana Santa, why Spaniards are so crazy about tortilla and became very comfortable with the routine of late nights and late mornings.

She met many people, but was particularly inspired by a group of Spanish women who, despite living lives of sacrifice and hardship, had found happiness in Seville.

One of the women, for example, came from a very wealthy family in Madrid but was kicked out of home when she was just 14 years old for being gay. She was living on the streets and was taken in by a sex worker, going on to run her own brothel. Now she is happy helping others who were in her situation years ago, Momo pointed out.

One day she decided to interview these women for a collection of stories about going through hardship and eventually finding fulfilment. Momo planned to publish these in a book that she hoped would inspire other people, especially her younger sister Kei, who was going through a difficult time mentally.

In October 2021, just when the book was starting to take shape, Momo returned from a trip to Madrid to find out that her beloved sister had taken her own life.

"The reason for publishing that book was lost; I wanted my sister to read it, I wanted it to be for her and to give her hope that you can make it and you are not alone," she said.

Momo refused to return to her project until six months later when she sat down at her desk one day and started editing again. She read over the interviews and was inspired to continue writing.

"I was so impressed by their attitude of never giving up hope. These women never surrender; it runs through their blood and they deserve for the world to know about them."

Momo dedicated the book to her sister and published Life in Andalucía last year in Japanese and in English, and a second book in Spanish in February, Amor, which tells the stories of another 13 people who chose Andalucía to live, and have found happiness.

"Andalucía has been a land of rehabilitation not just for me, but for so many people," she said.

"I want people to know this because I'm proud to live in the same streets as them; they make Andalucía even more special, it is my home now."

Momo can be contacted at momo.kujiraoka0603@gmail.com or via www.life-in-andalucia.com.

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